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Top Female Achievers

10 of the Best. Our annual look at women making a difference. To be honored at a luncheon on July 22nd at the W Hotel as a fund raiser for Grace House.

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From the many women who are doing great things in the community we present our annual sampling of a few worthy of extra attention. For much of its history New Orleans has been powered by women, many working quietly behind the scenes and some taking a more public role. That continues to be the case today. The city is rich with female achievers, and it is so much better because of it.


Judy Reese Morse
Chief of Staff and a Deputy Mayor, City of New Orleans

After a slew of jobs and experiences in Washington, D.C., Judy Reese Morse, one of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s six newly named deputy mayors, is exactly where she wants to be: New Orleans.

“Serving at the local level in City Hall provides a great opportunity to utilize lessons learned and best practices from previous experiences, all to benefit the citizens of New Orleans,” says Morse, who also serves as Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Chief of Staff. “I am proud to be a public servant. I believe in the power and promise of public service because I believe in the power and promise of people.” 

Morse, a communications graduate of Loyola University New Orleans, left her job at WWL-TV as a producer and assistant director of public affairs to earn a master’s degree in Public Administration from American University in Washington, D.C. She then worked for five years at National Public Radio as Director of Corporate Communications, worked as the Special Projects Assistant in the office of Lindy Boggs on Capitol Hill, served two years at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Resolution Trust Corporation and was selected as a Presidential Management Fellow, all for her to realize that she missed home.

“I was blessed to have the chance to gain a different perspective by living away from home,” Morse says. “However, the old adage is true – there’s no place like home. I was drawn back to New Orleans because it is my home. I was inspired by Landrieu’s vision of a ‘new South’ and wanted to be a part of that work.”

And work she did. She began working in Mitch Landrieu’s then-Lieutenant Governor’s office in 2004, working specifically with Louisiana recreation and tourism and expanding social entrepreneurship.  From there, Landrieu invited Morse to serve as a deputy.

Since then, she has been working with advisors to the Mayor in economic development, cultural economy, social innovation, international relations, education and strategy and coastal and environmental affairs, including the recent oil spill crisis.

“It is hard to accept that another catastrophic event has occurred in Louisiana and, like Hurricane Katrina, it will impact our economy and our lives for many years to come,” Morse says of the spill. “[The mayor’s office] participate[s] in several meetings daily with federal, state and regional officials involved in the crisis to ensure that the interests of New Orleans businesses and citizens are well-represented.”

Married to Chuck Morse with two children, Grace and Trey, whom she considers “beautiful human beings inside and out,” Morse says she understands the importance of immediate action in absolving the high crime rate and providing a first-rate education for New Orleans’ young citizens.

“The good news is, there are solid plans under development to address these and other issues facing our city.”

Morse says with assurance. “Change won’t be easy and it won’t come overnight, but it will happen because it must.”

– Briana Prevost

Mentor: I have had several guides and coaches in work and in life. There are too many to mention, but they all have been willing to share advice and set examples that have helped me along my journey. Some are family members; others are not. To all of them I am forever indebted.

Defining moment: When I left a great job and comfortable life in New Orleans to pursue a master’s degree in public administration in Washington, D.C. An advanced degree had always been important to me, and pursuing it away from everyone and everything I knew was a big step. That decision changed my life and led to a world of people and opportunities I would never have known otherwise.

Advice: I would give young women the same advice I give my daughter, Grace: Love and honor yourself; believe in yourself; do what you enjoy; have the strength to stand up for what you believe in (even if it means standing alone); treat people fairly, no matter their race, creed, color or position in life; and serve others. Whatever follows this will ultimately lead to happiness and success.

Favorite things: I love to read and exercise, all of which I should do more often.

Julia Bland
Executive Director, Louisiana Children’s Museum

Julia Bland has the best job in the city of New Orleans. At least she thinks so. “I’m really lucky to be able to do something I love to do,” she says. After volunteering with the Louisiana Children’s Museum, she progressed to board member and finally executive director. She serves as president of the Association of Children’s Museums and is one of 10 presidentially appointed members of the National Museum and Library Board. She is also a co-founder of New Orleans Kids Partnership, which includes 30 organizations focused on child development.

“It’s about every child; it’s about every family,” she says. “All children are different. But they all go through childhood, and it’s our job to make that childhood as rich and productive as possible.”

One of the most rewarding aspects of her work is the extensive network and support between museums nationally. “The world of children’s museums is a very sharing and caring world.”

But it’s during times of crisis that the genuine bond between museums is most evident. “The day after 9/11 I contacted the director for the Children’s Museum in Manhattan,” Bland recalls. LCM then converted its 15th birthday celebration into a fundraiser for Manhattan’s museum. LCM’s education director personally delivered the money as well as 1,000 origami birds of peace and other tokens of support.

Four years later, New York was able to return the favor. “After Katrina, the same director called me … because he’d been through it after 9/11,” Bland says. “What they did for us was much greater than what we did for them.”

They helped create a program that allowed LCM to deliver “normal childhood experiences,” such as toys, storytelling, journaling and art supplies, to children in St. Bernard Parish. LCM continues this program today, but with seven different sites. “It was the realization that our museum can be so much more in the community than what we have on Julia Street. It’s a relationship that has really meant a lot.”

Because of LCM’s impact in the community and with children, America’s Promise Alliance presented the museum with the Colin and Alma Powell Legacy Award in 2008.

“It’s the long-term impact that matters,” she says. “The way a community can benefit from your work is really significant. It’s not about a job.”

– Jordan DeFrank

Mentor: Both my parents for different reasons. My father started a school (in 1955) with four boys in the basement of a church. The school now has more than 1,000 students. My mother has been a real community leader in the world of libraries and literacy and very supportive of all of us in the family.

Defining Moment: The transformational time for us at the museum was post-Katrina. Now we do so much more in the community. It’s allowed us to be more relevant, to be more connected.

Advice: Get involved; get engaged. There are gifts that each and every person is born with or develops, and I think it’s important at this time in this city for us to all be contributors to make the city stronger.

Favorite Things: I love gardening. It’s great therapy. I think gardening has a lot of similarities to working with young children.

Goals: We’re leading an effort called the Early Learning Village where the LCM will relocate to City Park. We’ll have a literacy center, a parent resource center, a performing arts center, a nature center, a childcare center and outdoor gardens and grounds for discovery trails and exploration.

Dr. Mary Lupo
Aesthetic and General Dermatologist

Dr. Mary Lupo is always moving.

In addition to her weekly pilates, daily dog walking and occasional international travel, Lupo runs one of the most well-known aesthetic and general dermatology practices in the New Orleans area, serves as a clinical professor of dermatology at Tulane Medical School and is director of Tulane’s resident cosmetic clinic.
Things can get hectic in a typical day at her practice, she says.

“You never know what kind of day you’re going to have, because some days we’ll [have] more people wanting cosmetic procedures and other days we’ll have more medically oriented problems, like rashes, hives, warts or acne,” she says. 

As chaotic as the day may get, Lupo says she tries to be “as accommodating as possible” to her patients.

“We try to leave emergency appointments open, like if someone wakes up with a rash, or if someone has to leave town and they want a little Botox before they go.”

Botox, Juvederm and sclerotherapy treatments are just some of the options Lupo offers her patients. Lupo has been in the business since she became board-certified in 1984. Dermatology first piqued her interest when she was 16 years old.

“[At 16], I had something on my face that was unattractive and I went to see a dermatologist and they fixed it,” she says. “And I thought it was really cool. That was when I decided I wanted to be a dermatologist.”

The changing nature of the field was also an intriguing factor for her, she says. 

 “The practice of medicine isn’t stagnant – it’s constantly evolving … with new developments.  And [I have] that personality where I’m always in motion, I’ve got to have a new project.”

When performing procedures, Lupo’s goal isn’t to make her patients look 20 years younger; rather, she strives to make them look good for the age they are.

“What you want is for your friends to look at you and say, ‘You look good! Have you changed your hair?’ When they can’t quite put their finger on what you have done to look good, that’s when I feel I’m most successful for my patients,” she says.  “It’s about them; it’s not about the Juvederm or the Botox or the laser or whatever. It’s about them.”

– Jessica Williams

Mentor: My high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Herbert Wire. He didn’t just teach me things, he taught me how to teach myself things and to learn. He helped me understand what science is all about.

Defining moment : I started the first resident education clinic in the country to learn cosmetic injections for sclerotherapy and collagen injections for wrinkles.

Advice: You have to study hard to be a dermatologist … [have] innate intelligence [and] passion.

Favorite things: I like to cook. I have a passion for all dogs … I love seeing different places and meeting different people.

Goals: I really am at the place where I’d always hoped I would be.

Mimi Bowen

When shoppers come to see Mimi Bowen, they leave with not only armfuls of her clothes, but also a little of her philosophy. 

“You’re as cute today as you’re ever going to be,” is what she tells her customers, a group of women who are usually 30 and up, and worried about their appearance.

Bowen has been giving this advice to women long before 1978, when she first became a partner in Mimi, then known as The Front Room. She started by selling her mantra daily as a salesperson at a small boutique in Memphis before she moved to New Orleans.

Making the transition from sales to business management was “just something that evolved,” she says.

“It’s just like anything, if you stick at it long enough, it kind of catches on,” Bowen says. “Through the process we started learning what we needed to do to run the business. There was nothing scientific about it, nobody had any business degrees –we were strictly by the seat of our pants.”

Bowen’s favorite part of running her business today remains the same as it was then: the interaction she has with her customers.

“I’m a real people person,” she says. “And 90 percent of our customers are people that I know personally. And I do have some sense of what their lifestyles are, and I think that’s one thing that makes the business successful, is that we do buy clothes that suit those people’s lifestyles.

The fact that Bowen buys clothes specifically for her customers is what separates Mimi from larger department stores, as well as the demographic she caters to, she says.

“It’s certainly more difficult to dress a little older, more sophisticated customer… they come in there and they hate their bodies,” Bowen says. “I say I don’t have any kind of business degrees, but what I ought to have, just by virtue of doing it, is a degree in psychology.”

The shop owner doesn’t just sell her “psychology” to customers; she also believes it herself.

“In my pictures back 30 years ago, pictures of me when I thought I looked awful, I think, ‘Holy cow, what was I thinking? I was fabulous!’ That’s my psychology, is I try to convince these women how fabulous they are, right now today.”

– J.W.

Mentor: The woman that I worked for that owned the store in Memphis, Francis Wright … she was definitely my inspiration.

Defining moment: At this point in my career I can look back on it and say that the whole thing has defined my life … because the store is me.

Advice: Don’t go into any field at all unless you think you really like it.

Favorite things: Sleep! That’s not very exciting, but that’s what it is.

Goals: Just the other day, the manager of Saks Fifth Avenue came in and told me, ‘I was told to come in and shop the competition.’ So, if Saks Fifth Avenue can consider me the competition … I’m a happy camper. My goal is to continue to be [its] competition.

Karen Adjmi and Jackie Palumbo
Co-founders and owners of Earthsavers

Karen Adjmi and Jackie Palumbo believe that beauty and health start from within. The owners of Earthsavers opened their first store in 1990 as a hobby. “‘Beauty from the inside out’ was our slogan,” Palumbo says. “What you put inside of you is what shows on the outside – how you look and how you feel.”

After a brief stint with an advertising firm in the mid-80s, Adjmi and Palumbo decided to start their own advertising business, only to discover another passion. Earthsavers began as an environmental store, though when the two realized that demand was low (New Orleans wasn’t recycling at the time), they transitioned into body and hair care. “It was what we were interested in. It didn’t take long to realize that was the direction we wanted to go,” Adjmi says.

The turning point in the success of their business came with the addition of spa services, such as massage, and the phasing out of the advertising business. “There were really no day spas to model ourselves after,” Adjmi says. “We were figuring out who we wanted to be.”

They focused on the healing aspects of their products through spa services. “Our philosophy has always been a hands-on approach, whereas a lot of businesses use machines,” Palumbo says. “We believe the healing is in the hands.”

Their newest endeavor is the introduction of a health program designed by Metagenics called First Line, which will include consultation, dietary advice based on the Mediterranean diet, vitamins and supplements, exercise and other lifestyle changes. “It will help eliminate chronic disease,” says Adjmi. “It will make you vibrantly healthy.”

The 12-week program is meant to reduce stress, high blood pressure, joint pain and inflammation, weight gain and other forms of chronic illness. “All of those problems can be alleviated or warded off by your diet,” Palumbo says.

Both women practice what they preach, from the Earthsavers hair and body products (“You should see our bathrooms,” Adjmi says.) to the diet and lifestyle choices (Adjmi has only been sick once in 15 years; Palumbo is actually a grandmother who looks decades younger). They credit much of their success and health to following their passions. “It’s so much more than a business,” Adjmi says. “I think when you take your work personally, and it’s no longer work, that’s the key to being successful. I think it has to be who you are.”

Over time, the business’s slogan has evolved to “Health is beauty,” says Palumbo. “We’ve come full circle.” Yet their goals remain the same: “If we could bring this information to people in an organized way and give them the option to be vibrantly healthy,” Adjmi says. “I can’t think of anything else that would be more rewarding.”

– J.D.

Mentor: I’ve always been a self-help junkie. I’ve read all of Wayne Dyer’s books. I like Buddhist philosophy.
Defining moment: I’ll never forget it as long as I live. Our choice was to close the doors or stay open and we chose to stay open, looked at what was working and added spa services.

Advice: Take action. You don’t have to find the perfect job always, but you can make it the perfect job. Take the steps that get you there.

Favorite Things: I love yoga, spa services, bodywork, working, friends, dinners, my dogs, travel.
Goals: We want to really change the quality of someone’s life.

Mentor: The people I work with. I’m learning on a daily basis how to interact with people whether they’re customers or people on staff. [They] are constantly keeping me changing.

Defining Moment: We spent so much time on the advertising business that we said “let’s figure this out.” We focused on skin care and body care and added services.

Advice: To do what you love but also just to do it. Go for it. If we had thought about it too long and planned it too much, we probably wouldn’t have done it.

Favorite Things: I love what I do. I love to be with my family. I love shopping. I love my grandkids. I like to cook even though I don’t have the time. We love traveling together.

Goals: To reach a lot of people with this health program, to change peoples’ health, to change peoples’ lives. We would like to have continued success and expansion, so that everyone can be a part of it.

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